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Education Programming

Despite Push From Tech Giants, AP CS Exam Counts Don't Budge Much In Most States 144

theodp (442580) writes "Well, the College Board has posted the 2014 AP Computer Science Test scores. So, before the press rushes out another set of Not-One-Girl-In-Wyoming-Took-an-AP-CS-Exam stories, let's point out that no Wyoming students of either gender took an AP CS exam again in 2014 (.xlsx). At the overall level, the final numbers have changed somewhat (back-of-the-Excel-envelope calculations, no warranty expressed or implied!), but tell pretty much the same story as the preliminary figures — the number of overall AP CS test takers increased, while pass rates decreased despite efforts to cherry pick students with a high likelihood of success. What is kind of surprising is how little the test numbers budged for most states — only 8 states managed to add more than 100 girls to the AP CS test taker rolls — despite the PR push by the tech giants, including Microsoft, Google, and, Facebook. Also worth noting are some big percentage decreases at the top end of the score segments (5 and 4), and still-way-too-wide gaps that exist between the score distributions of the College Board's various ethnic segments (more back of the envelope calcs). If there's a Data Scientist in the house, AP CS exam figures grabbed from the College Board's Excel 2013 and 2014 worksheets can be found here (Google Sheets) together with the (unwalkedthrough) VBA code that was used to collect it. Post your insight (and code/data fixes) in the comments!"
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Despite Push From Tech Giants, AP CS Exam Counts Don't Budge Much In Most States

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  • Obvious for some, but what does AP stand for???

    Associated Press?

    Please avoid unnecessary acronyms - this is an international site.

    • advanced placement, they're courses in High School where if you score well enough on the final exam you can often get college credit
    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      i thihk it stands for Advance Placement, which are (correct me if I'm wrong) voluntary classes a student can take in advance to build enough credits to be able to take other classes they don't qualify for, or to get fewer hours required in a future course.

      It doesn't seem to me to be for those with a strong interest or skills.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I took this in high school and was far advanced from just about everyone in my college CS courses. We covered all data structures linked lists, stack, queue, trees, etc (using both arrays and pointers), searches/sorts big O, etc. all of this included when and why to pick the algorithm, etc We did recursion, crazy hybrid structures, you name it we did it. It was a great course. The best course I have ever had in my life. It was an entire school year in length and started with about 25+ kids and ended

    • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

      No it's not. It's an american site that has some international visitors.

    • "Advanced Placement". These are, I assume, equivalent to the older "honors" courses except that they prepare you for a test you can take to skip a first semester/quarter freshman class in college. In that sense of being an honors course, I don't see what the fuss is about. We didn't even have this stuff when I was in school, and we certainly don't ever hire anyone based upon whether or not they tested out of a course. I have however seen people from top high schools who had difficulty and shell shock at

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @10:25AM (#48123965) Journal

    ...if you're going into a CS program. This holds in general with AP tests, don't take the ones in your intended major, because you're unlikely to get useful credit for them. This varies from school to school of course, but it's generally true.

    • by liquidweaver ( 1988660 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @11:06AM (#48124209)

      Took the Comp Sci AB test (more advanced form of AP test, doesn't exist now) in 2001; skipped to sophomore level classes. My anecdotal experience counters your citation free claim :)

    • If you already know you are going into a CS program, you already have experience coding and a coding mentor around to train you then yes, the AP CS course is probably not for you. If you're not sure you want to code for a living or if you think you do but all you've ever done is make it through a couple of basic python tutorials then you probably want to get some experience coding before you go and major it in.
      • by jopsen ( 885607 )

        If you're not sure you want to code for a living or if you think you do but all you've ever done is make it through a couple of basic python tutorials then you probably want to get some experience coding before you go and major it in.

        +1,
        Besides don't take a course to get credit... Just like you shouldn't choose the courses that are easiest to pass...
        If you're not studying in order to learn something you're better off dropping out.

        It's surprising in my experience how many students cares more about grades, credit and getting a degree rather than learning something useful, or at least just interesting.

        Either way, a CS degree takes hard work, trying it out in high school is a good idea. And having extra skills/knowledge when you star

        • by Anonymous Coward

          It's surprising in my experience how many students cares more about grades, credit and getting a degree rather than learning something useful, or at least just interesting.

          It's because that's all that's important nowadays. In order to advance, you need to demonstrate your proficiency at succeeding in a contrived environment.

          Want to get into a good school? Take bird courses to pad your GPA since that's the only metric people use to judge your ability (unless you become good friends with an influential prof, in which case it doesn't matter).

          Want to be a medical doctor? Take a low effort "pre-med" degree to guarantee you get a good GPA while buffing up your ECs, since that's all

          • "Pre-med" isn't a major, it's a set of requirements. You can major in anything you like and go to med school. When I went through, it was two years of chemistry, one year each of biology and physics, a calculus credit, and at least two semesters of science at the junior/senior level. My wife got into med school with an English degree.
    • A quick look at the Barrons AP CS Book on Amazon led me to believe that there is little more to it than "Learn Java". I could see there being real use for an AP class in something like "data processing for non-CS majors" but Java would not be my first choice of language for that.

      As it is, it seems to me that the intended beneficiaries of the exam are the politicians and the schools (to tout their getting girls into CS credentials) and whoever most benefits from having Java programmers (the big SAS provider

    • by reiscw ( 2427662 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:14PM (#48124935)

      I teach AP Computer Science. I definitely think it's worth the time if you can fit it into your schedule. That's the main issue at my school. I constantly hear from students that they are told by admissions people (and yes, admissions people from engineering schools) that the school would rather see a fourth year of Spanish than a year of computer science. The students just can't fit it all in (and I don't want them stressing themselves out to do it). One of the best things about AP Computer Science is that you get some good experience with recursion, inheritance, interfaces, class design --- more advanced topics that you might not encounter as a self-educated programmer (and many of the students in my classes are extensively self-educated). For students majoring in engineering / natural science fields other than computer science or computer engineering, it's definitely equivalent to the first-level undergraduate course. For a student majoring in CS / CompE / EE, I would suggest re-taking the introductory course. One of the things I got out of my introductory CS course at college (my background is EE / math) was familiarization with Unix. It's also easier transitioning into the advanced courses like data structures (especially if the language used is C++ instead of Java, which AP CS uses). I took five AP classes in high school (including the AP CS AB exam in Pascal and Calculus AB). I retook CS and Calc even though I passed the exams (and not because I didn't get useful credit for passing those exams, but because I thought it was unwise to skip them).

      • One of the best things about AP Computer Science is that you get some good experience with recursion, inheritance, interfaces, class design --- more advanced topics that you might not encounter as a self-educated programmer (and many of the students in my classes are extensively self-educated).

        All of these things are basic, fundamental, principles encountered early in the process of learning programming. If you're not extensively practicing these things by your second or third week (if not sooner) of learning object oriented programming (with recursion not needing OOP), then you should probably reconsider your career path and stop thinking of yourself as in any way, shape, or form, "extensively self-educated" in programming.

        • by jandrese ( 485 )
          I don't think you've seen how CS classes work in your typical grade school if you think OOP and recursion is a week 2 activity.
      • I did not take AP Comp Sci for the following reasons:

        1. It was taught in Pascal, which I had zero intention of learning
        2. There was no room in my schedule due to other AP classes
        3. The I had already taken a course with the AP CS teacher (Precalc), and the teacher and I had already collaboratively determined that we seriously despised each other

        Like you, I found value in taking CS101 in college instead of in high school. I had already amassed enough AP credit to permit me to blow off college, so it's not like skippi

      • One of the best things about AP Computer Science is that you get some good experience with recursion, inheritance, interfaces, class design --- more advanced topics that you might not encounter as a self-educated programmer

        As a self taught programmer, some of the most enlightening things I learned were algorithms and data structures. These are the ones generally missed by many of the self taught people that I have met. No, Big O notation has nothing to do with Office Space and Jennifer Aniston while Red and Black trees have nothing to do with Christmas.

        I did not, and still do not really like recursion, but I do find tail recursion useful at times. Very elegant. Object Oriented stuff... is useful but I prefer to stay in C and

    • ...if you're going into a CS program. This holds in general with AP tests, don't take the ones in your intended major, because you're unlikely to get useful credit for them. This varies from school to school of course, but it's generally true.

      Totally disagree. I took 5 AP classes in High School in ~1980. I was the first person in my High School to achieve this number of AP classes, and I was able to skip my freshman year of college and immediately begin taking more advanced math, physics, chemistry, honors English, and when I discovered them, CS courses. I was well on my way to multiple degrees, while most of the people I went to High School with were still deciding what to major in.

      Testing out of a class is a more iffy proposition. I found

    • I got credit for mine. Let me skip the intro course. Even if only gets you credit for a course intended for non-majors that can still potentially boost your GPA. Having the high score might also help you get admitted to more selective schools. Not taking the test when you have a reasonable chance of scoring highly seems like pretty terrible advice.
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      ...if you're going into a CS program. This holds in general with AP tests, don't take the ones in your intended major, because you're unlikely to get useful credit for them. This varies from school to school of course, but it's generally true.

      True, but even if it's not for credit, it can make your introduction-to-postsecondary life easier by covering the material you need ahead of time. (Didn't we have a whole discussion about school not letting you get ahead? Well AP is an opportunity for high school stude

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @10:33AM (#48124017)

    If women want to be in IT/Engineering/Math/Whatever then they'll be in IT/Engineering/Math/Whatever. The idea that there needs to be an exactly equal amount of all groups in every field is patently absurd. People are different. All of us. Even the ones who are in the same ethnic/religious/chromosome group. Quit trying to put people in neat boxes, it doesn't work. Let this issue die. Please Slashdot. It's for your own good.

    • People facing backlash and or lawsuits due to gender inequality have a vested interest in at least appearing to do what they can. Same reason Microsoft benefits from helping a nearly defunct Apple so they have a competitor in the face of monopoly trials.

      The people pushing the issue, the gender equality folks, have a personal agenda, and you won't change their mind. So this group is either on board with equality people, or paying lip service. That won't go away until the equality people are satisfied, or die

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      The idea that there needs to be an exactly equal amount of all groups in every field is patently absurd.

      Yes, it is, so I don't know why you keep bringing it up. It isn't the stated goal of any of the major schemes to get women into engineering, and it isn't the stated position of any prominent feminists or feminist groups. It is a classic straw man.

      The issue with the lack of women in engineering and certain other subjects is that we know women want to go into them, but are put off doing so. We know because they tell us and describe exactly what puts them off, and because there used to be a lot more of them. E

      • Even just 15 years ago there were a lot more.

        Can you post your sources for this? I have not seen solid data that indicates a net decline in the numbers. I have seen some numbers that start to suggest this, but they do not separate out foreign born workers from domestic workers. I think that if we are going to actually look at the numbers, and make a policy prescription, we have to discount that the imported foreign-born workers coming in are disproportionately male. US-policy should not try to fix the g

    • Sample size of 1, but my wife absolutely refused to do any type of programming when she graduated college. And it's not like she couldn't have learned, considering her math and science background. She just hated programming, and that was that.

  • by jader3rd ( 2222716 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @10:35AM (#48124037)
    Apparently those who are capable of taking the AP CS exam are also those who are interested in taking the AP CS exam. Getting outside pressure to increase interest does not increase capability. Color me shocked.
    • Yes. What a surprise that a year of marketing hype hasn't had a major effect on people's choices for what to do for the rest of their lives.

  • Took the exam last year, and scored a 5 (New York City - in fact, Bronx HS of Science)

    • Took the exam last year, and scored a 5 (New York City - in fact, Bronx HS of Science)

      Why did you bother? I'm assuming from your low /. ID number that you're well out of high school.

  • by RogueWarrior65 ( 678876 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @10:37AM (#48124051)

    As an employer, I would care far less about how people do on a test then I do about actual projects they've worked on or finished programs they can demonstrate. IMHO, STEM jobs are far less about theory and more about practical applications.

    • Colleges care about AP tests. As you say: employers don't. Passed AP tests are 'equivalent' to non-remedial college freshman coursework. I've never been asked what grade I got in calc I (5 on the AP test). I was asked about Senior projects and summer work etc decades ago.

      That said, there are clearly courses which teach new fundamental approaches. There is a gap between those who did the classical physics/calculus course work and those who haven't. That gap is mostly invisible from the 'don't get it' side

    • STEM jobs are far less about theory and more about practical applications.

      Ah! Welcome, web developer!

  • Maybe my recollection is bad, but, wasn't the big PR push just in the last year? I know at my high school (granted, almost 20 years ago now) you had to take 2 years of CS to get into the AP course and even attempt the test. So at a minimum I would expect the PR push to show up in next year's numbers. Its going to take more time and effort than 1 year of google handing out cash to make a significant change in numbers, and its going to take a long time to really improve pass rates. You can't just throw a

    • And if girls don't naturally love programming, i won't help.

      Here's my experience with minecraft.

      Millions of sales.

      Go to the redstone servers or the PVP servers or the Youtube videos about gameplay and redstone programming....

      And it's a bunch of 9!!! year old boys to middleaged guys.

      Seriously... some 9 year old boy making you tube videos of his redstone creations-- and I learned something from his video. I can't even make a youtube video yet.

      Girls play minecraft but they are under represented and tend to fo

  • I'd like to think that the brightest US high school students would be smart enough to avoid going into a field that is being outsourced overseas and go into something like Medicine that pays better and is more secure.

    • You don't usually "go into" CS with the goal of getting some kind of tech support job.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      I would be pretty to think that kids think that way. If that were the case, we would see more people taking classes like that. One of the purposes of the AP Exam is to get kids exposure in high school, possible credit for college, so they can go on and do what they really want to do. So someone taking an AP Literature exam is looking to get credit for the class and either take a more advanced core credit or maybe complete all the English core. Computer Science, as opposed to secretarial skills, are goin
    • I'd like to think ...

      I suggest trying to avoid holding a given belief just because you like it.

    • The kind of dev. I'm interested in doing isn't being outsourced. The type of jobs being outsourced aren't the ones I had in mind when I chose to pursue a C.S. degree.
  • If the goal is getting people interested, implying a lack of interest, you can't measure it yet.

    Going from not interested to being in an AP class is not a reasonable expectation in a school year. Being in the class does not imply being remotely capable of passing. And the tests cost money. Some states have conditional reimbursement, but I don't see it working out well for people otherwise disinterested a year prior.

    People have some idea of the classes they will take entering high school. While that may chan

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @10:58AM (#48124179)

    Would more people, maybe even girls, be interested in this test if employers stopped shipping in visa workers and started to increase pay?

    Let's try it, for science.

  • So, before the press rushes out another set of Not-One-Girl-In-Wyoming-Took-an-AP-CS-Exam stories, let's point out that no Wyoming students of either gender took an AP CS exam again in 2014

    There are 31 CITIES in the US with a larger population than the entire state of Wyoming. It's the least populated state in the US. It's most populous city is the capital of Cheyenne with 60,000 people. Heck, the District of Columbia which doesn't get 2 senators and a voting representative in the House has more people than the state of Wyoming. The fact that AP technology classes aren't exactly hugely popular there should surprise no one. I imagine their school budgets are tight enough trying to keep th

    • by Anonymous Coward

      His point was to pre-squash the red herring that "No girls from Wyoming took the test."

    • The Slashdot hated coal mining industry and oil industries (and a few other mineral concerns) contribute a lot to the budget. We do better than most due to that. A lot of kids take the IB route at one of the high schools in Casper (which also offers several AP courses). It's tough to do both IB diploma and AP. There aren't enough hours in the day for IB and much of anything else.

      The small population does factor in greatly though. Only the larger cities (large being relative) have enough students to be abl

    • The city where I grew up had about the same population (when I was living there) as Wyoming's current population. It was urban, but not especially progressive and not located in a state known for its awesome education system. We probably had 10 people take the AP C.S. exam at my school alone. Granted, it was a magnet school with an engineering focus, but I'm sure there were also some other exam-takers from the other schools in my district. So something weird is going on in Wyoming.
  • There are a lot of factors in play here. As noted above, the effects of the Hour of Code and other pushes to get more into programming won't be felt in the first year. My anecdotal situation - AP CS classes at my school increased from about 40 students to over 60 this year. I don't know if this trend is seen throughout the US or not.

    There is also the issue of preparation. Not every school has a teacher who is "qualified" to teach the rigorous material in AP CS. My guess is the vast majority of AP Calc

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When I was a kid, computers were these neat little things that looked like an electric typewriter that you could plug into the tv and program in basic. And its where a lot of kids became programmers. Success was easy to achieve. Now everything is bolted down. We dumbed it all down for the masses, and made it harder. Now its something you do like going to the dentist, or taking your dog to the vet, or take an AP test in because some plutocrat thinks you should. And the numbers have barely budged. Imag

    • This. Pretty much this.

      Anyone here who is older than 35 will remember that getting your first computer almost invariably entailed getting at least some sort of clue concerning programming it. Even if it was only "how to get DOS to free up enough space so I can run the game". Getting games to run usually required WAY more than it does today.

      Usually it quickly evolved into more. We wanted to DO some kind of stuff with our machines. Games just weren't that good back then and they only got you so far (not to me

      • This. Pretty much this.

        Anyone here who is older than 35 will remember that getting your first computer almost invariably entailed getting at least some sort of clue concerning programming it. Even if it was only "how to get DOS to free up enough space so I can run the game".

        Those of us actually over the age of 35 didn't start on DOS ;-)
        poke 53280,0

      • This. Pretty much this.

        Anyone here who is older than 35 will remember that getting your first computer almost invariably entailed getting at least some sort of clue concerning programming it. Even if it was only "how to get DOS to free up enough space so I can run the game". Getting games to run usually required WAY more than it does today.

        Really? I started on the Amiga, and had no messing around to get games to run - it was as simple as inserting a disk.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I feel bad for CS majors. On one hand you have outsourcing suppressing wages and making job security unpredictable. Even if outsourcing is a mistake for most companies, some naive CxO's still think it's a good idea. On the other hand you have Mr. Suckerburg and the heads of most tech. companies trying to suppress wages by flooding the labor market through campaigns like this.

    At least this article is a bit of good news. It's good to know that their marketing campaign is failing either because they're ineffec

  • The answer is simple: Pay more.

    The salary of a tech worker strait out of community college is $30k around here. You can make that much at Walmart, easilly. Why on earth would someone go into a profession that requires difficult classes and pays shit? You can get a nursing degree with a hell of a lot less effort and they start at $45k, the demand for workers is huge and there's no possible way you'd ever get outsourced.

    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      You seem to be confusing "tech worker" and "software developer". Be the latter. Even as a software developer, first-job pay will be crap, but who cares. Once you demonstrate you can actually code professionally, it's among the best-paying jobs in America.

      But you have to be able to code.

  • If this is due to the public perception that technology as a profession is one that is likely to be outsourced or given to foreign workers with H1B visas. It could also be due to perception that careers in technology are unstable, feast and famine. I left technology as a career because I'm sick of having my job held over me with a looming threat of being easily replaced. I'm sick of the vendor certifications and being evaluated for potential based on them. Also, I grew weary of performance-based metrics and
    • I've been working for 15 years. In that time, I've held five jobs. The shortest of them lasted 2 years, and that's because I chose to leave. I have no vendor certifications nor would it help me to obtain them. At my current company we hardly ever do reviews. Maybe my experience isn't representative, but, then again, maybe yours wasn't either.
  • In K-12 education, changes in policy, curricula, and other interventions such as supplementary classes (in this case) don't show much effect on learning outcomes until they've been in effect for at least 10-15 years. So, if Google, Faccebook, Microsoft, et al. can maintain their coding instruction projects for the next 10-15 years, they'll see what's possible with those approaches. So far, extra-curricula interventions in other subjects don't appear to show significant differences in learning outcomes. It's

  • who in their right mind would go into computer science in America right now? At the same time Tech Giants are pushing for more CS majors their campaigning hard to bring in more H1-B visa holders. Meanwhile outsourcing continues to eliminate jobs.

    Maybe if the gov't would get serious about promoting small software businesses (small 50 employees, and be careful they're not just shill companies for Microsoft et al) and if we had some protectionism I'd say go for it. But right now is not a good time to be a C
    • The stable jobs will be IT and not CS. Why would somebody bound for IT take the CS AP certification?

      The AP system is almost pure BS. What a joke. Their metric for measuring the number of majors is by how many high school children ignorant enough to take the AP for it? If it were offered to me when I was in school I would not have taken it and I knew far more than it covered... I still learned something in taking CS courses in things I already knew; not as much as I paid for, but it was still useful informa

    • who in their right mind would go into computer science in America right now?

      Someone who enjoys coding. Someone who likes being compensated pretty well without having work lawyer-hours. You can whine about H1-B visas all you want, but the situation for software devs is pretty comfortable.

  • People interested in programming in high-school probably had some nerdy interests as adolescents. Interests that weren't squashed by teachers, peers, or parents as so often is the case.

    By the time they are 16 or older it's probably too late. Granted there are certainly exceptions, but don't look for a shift in numbers so soon. It takes a concerted effort over at least a decade to begin moving the needle, then a slow ramp up over the following decade to shift the cultural pressures and expectations. Look at

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